Review Summary: Arcade Fire's The Suburbs is a near-flawlessly put together concept album, revolving around a concept that is all too relatable; all too true.Sometimes I can’t believe it.
This is where we were born and raised. This is where we grew up. This is where we went through our many phases and this is where the many milestones of life passed us by. In this place, on the outskirts of the bustling city, we all knew each other. Our friendship was strong enough to survive the strain of being many miles apart, but we never had to worry about that, because our houses were so close. If we were in the right backyard, we could see the distant cityscape, the pretty, lit-up skyline that seemed so far away. Just like everything else surrounding our suburbs. We grew accustomed to the idea of this place being our home, so anything beyond this sprawling landscape of driveways, fences, and inviting abodes was strange and unfamiliar to us. Our summer nights were starlit, not in lights. We never thought the city would come here. Not the city, not anything else we had been swallowed whole by already without even realizing it. In a place where every yard has a tree, where every season is welcomed with open arms, a place where we indulged in our ability to breathe, we forgot about our nature.
The war soon began.
It was a tedious, but enlightening process. Unpleasantly enlightening. Everything changed. Everything…I got sick of the walls falling, of the streets getting rearranged. I became helplessly used to it. It gave me such an empty, hopeless feeling. Hopefully, I’ve come to terms with it all now. Hopefully I’ve moved past the feeling.
You always seemed so sure,
That one day we’d be fighting in a suburban war,
Your part of town against mine, I saw you standing on the opposite shore.
But by the time the first bombs fell, we were already bored.
We were already bored.
I was standing on the edge of the street, the war hadn’t even officially started yet. I just stood there, watching the typical suburban day rise and come to a close, just watching the process play out. Suburban days, lives, are so consistent. They’re a routine, warm and reassuring. But as the curtain of the day began to fall, I realized this day had reassured me to the point of suspicion. The sun stayed on the horizon for a second longer than normal, and its final burst of light before night enveloped the neighborhood, I swear, flashed a premonition before my very eyes. A premonition I had recognized from my dreams. I knew it was coming, but at that moment, I was not ready. But, quick as I could, I prepared myself, I prepared for all of this to fall apart…
…and now I’m ready to start.
I began walking down the middle of the battlefield. I saw both sides preparing for the war. It seemed like this disaster was approaching faster, but the same melancholy, cathartic atmosphere remained. In both my central and peripheral vision, I kept seeing suburban soldiers of both sides with hatred in their eyes, but not hatred for the opponent, hatred for what this inevitable war would result in. Change. All of the memories these roads carry, being torn away. Towards the end of the road I saw a man with a look on his face like a bomb was about to go off, and for a second I thought this is where it was all going to end. But just like the thought that anything lasts forever, it was a false alarm. This phase of the process ended up coming to a close pretty abruptly. I guess there was more that leads up to change than I thought.
The road I was on smoothly widened into another, and I kept walking. I was walking with a steady and upbeat rhythm now, the only reason I wasn’t totally enjoying myself was because the haunting fear of everything changing still surrounded me. But this road was a breath of fresh air, a breath of fresh consistency. It made me feel like I was actually going to get somewhere. In fact, I think I’d completely left my neighborhood by now. I could see the skyline in the distance, I think downtown was just around the corner. I’d heard about that place before. It’s a place where everything is static, where everyone constantly alters things seemingly for the mere sake of it. What a frightening thought.
They build it up just to burn it back down,
They build it up just to burn it back down,
The wind is blowing all the ashes around.
Perhaps it was these ashes that were being blown all over my suburbs, my life. Perhaps the ashes brought their curse with them, and perhaps that’s the reason this war began. The reason this war had to begin. These downtown folks, they kept repeating this thought over and over into my head until I was begging for mercy. Nothing has scared me more in my life. I was terrified, frantic.
Oh my dear god, what is that horrible song they’re singing?
I tried to run away from this horrible, horrible place, but I don’t think my adrenaline pushed me in the right direction. I opened my eyes, and found that I had ended up in a room, feeling even emptier than before.
I was desperate during this phase of the process. I knew I could probably find a way out of this room if I tried, but my mind was so corroded with thoughts of loneliness and fear, I thought I might go insane before that would ever happen.
When I’m by myself, I can be myself
And my life is coming, but I don’t know when.
I needed my life to come get me more than anything at this point. I needed it now more than ever.
To finally get my life back on track, I left that empty room, and the war, behind me and moved to a new city. It was relieving to be away from all that violent chaos, at least for a little while. In this city, I felt safe, and…calm. Finally. Calm.
I spent a fair amount of time there, until I finally began to realize that I really was changing, as was the world around me. I finally saw that just like the suburbs in which I resided, my innocence was slowly draining away. I had most certainly not come to terms with it yet, but I was no longer in denial. I let the innocence fall out from me, and thus, I began to grow weary of this city as well.
I feel like I’ve been living in a city with no children in it.
I began a seemingly aimless stroll. I wasn’t expecting to find any destination suitable for me in the least, let alone one that wouldn’t get rearranged as I slept. I just kept walking, almost for the sake of it. As I walked, I reminisced the good times I had in the suburbs. Particularly the times that happened during the time of day where the sun was just beginning to set. We called it the “half-light.”
Lock us up safe, and hide the key
But the night tears us loose,
And in the half-light,
I began to miss these times so much that tears started rolling down my face. I was remembering them so intently that I could’ve sworn I heard the actual voices of my friends, voices that have now become permanently silenced by the war, playing a beautiful symphony in my head. I knew it was just one edge of the double-edged sword that memories are, though, that it was only my brain conjuring up these remembrances. And as you may expect, this only saddened me more.
Our heads are just houses
Without enough windows.
You say you hear human voices,
But they’re only echoes.
I had ended up walking through the night, half-asleep, but then suddenly the sun shined brightly into my eyes, at the same time I finally conceived the courage to come to terms with everything happening around inside and around me. This day began with an optimistic edge, and I was reveling in it.
You and I, we head back east
To find a town where we could live.
Even in the half-light,
We can see that something’s gotta give.
I was feeling gallant, brave, and bold. I knew what was happening to my home, and I was ready to accept it. So I decided to walk back to my suburbs, the place where the war was happening, where the bombs and bullets of change were slaughtering innocence. I wanted to be there when my home finally fell to the ground.
Though we knew this day would come,
Still it took us by surprise.
In this town where I was born,
I now see through a dead man’s eyes.
I arrived at the scene of the war. The suburbs were torn to pieces. It was apparent this was a war we could not win. Fences were in fragments and lying all over the ground, and the quaint, little houses were stripped down to their foundations. It was heartbreaking. But rather than standing in the same place, crying and dwelling on it, I decided to express this sadness and frustration creatively and constructively. It was May anyway, the trees and flowers were blooming (they looked quite ironic near the battered wasteland the streets of the suburbs had become), and there was inspiration in the air. I could taste it.
2009, 2010, wanna make a record how I felt then,
When we stood outside in the month of May,
And watched the violent wind blow the wires away.
I stood on the corner of a demolished road near what was once my home, and sang. Loud. It felt incredibly freeing. Every time a visceral syllable was released through my teeth, it was similar to the feeling I experienced while laying under a tree in my old front yard, during midday. When the temperature was perfect, and a cool breeze blew across my face. I find it beautiful how a memory so simple can weave itself such a special place in my heart.
All those wasted hours we used to know,
Spent the summer staring out the window,
The wind, it takes you where it wants to go.
Even with these memories helping to create the illusion that I myself had remained the same throughout this whole process, I still knew what was really happening, that I’d really been growing older every day of this war, physically and emotionally. The only constant is change. And I had finally realized that this applies to people and their feelings as well as their habitats, no matter how fenced in.
In the night there is something wild.
I feel it,
It’s leaving me.
Although this was a great and significant realization, it was not my final one. This took a few more milestones of life, and a few more joyous and painful years to discover. The ashes and debris that my suburbs had been reduced to a few years back were now built back up in a relatively similar way, but were filled with completely different people. These kids that were now taking up space in the suburbs had grown accustomed to everything in their lives revolving around speed and efficiency. They seemed to be willing to throw away a pure home, and a pure soul, in order to reach the next stage of life. They also seemed to be oblivious to the violent change that would soon turn their worlds upside down, as it did mine. This was almost as heartbreaking to see as the war itself.
We used to wait for it,
And now they’re screaming “sing the chorus again!”
Now our lives are changing fast,
Hope that something pure can last…
Hope that something pure can last.
When these new homes were built in the place of my suburbs, I initially felt nothing but contempt for the new way of life they brought with them. But as I said earlier, with a little more time, and a little more thought, reason took contempt’s place. I realized that after my war happened, if I had been given the choice to either accept the change or relive the memories that happened in the suburbs, I would choose the latter in a heartbeat. Which is exactly what these new kids would do; relive their own version of “pure,” the “pure” they grew up with and loved dearly. Because even if they were just destroyed again, living your fondest memories over again would be worth the destruction. It always will be. And these wars that have happened since humans began existing are just cycles. We’ll always just want to waste our time again and again. It’s a process we’ll all go through. We’ll all eventually learn to move past the feeling.
If I could have it back,
All the time that we wasted,
I’d only waste it again.
Sometimes I can’t believe it,
I’m moving past the feeling again.